California state Sen. Ronald Calderon

State Sen. Ronald Calderon, shown at a news conference at the Capitol in June 2013, is accused of fraud, money laundering and taking nearly $100,000 in bribes. (Rich Pedroncelli, Associated Press / June 10, 2013)

By Chris Megerian and Melanie Mason
February 22, 2014, 7:39 p.m.

SACRAMENTO — For a while it looked like the state Legislature was shedding its reputation as a political punching bag, its ratings in public opinion polls climbing out of the cellar as the budget crisis eased and the economy began to recover.

Then federal authorities announced criminal charges against state Sen. Ronald S. Calderon (D-Montebello) and his brother Tom Calderon, a former lawmaker, on Friday.

The senator is accused of fraud, money laundering and taking nearly $100,000 in bribes in return for pushing to expand tax credits for the film industry and opposing certain workers’ compensation legislation. His brother is charged with participating in a money laundering conspiracy.

The Calderons, through their attorneys, have denied the charges, which came less than a month after Sen. Roderick D. Wright (D-Inglewood) was convicted of perjury and voter fraud for not living in the district he represents.

But as the scandals swirl, analysts say their effects are likely to be minimal, even in this election year. Incumbents tend to keep their jobs, and voters aren’t paying enough attention to be outraged.

In addition, the legal cases have come early in the year, long before Californians cast ballots in the primary or the general election. And many voters consider such controversies to be business as usual.

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